Artisanal Salt 101

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Artisanal Salt 101

Salt is a brilliant multitasker in the kitchen—it releases, heightens, and even helps harmonize the flavors of food.

Prized since ancient times, salt is making a new splash with gourmet varieties that offer their own distinct colors, textures, and flavors. Most are available in natural and specialty foods stores, or you can find them online at The Spice House and Zingerman. Here are a few to get to know:

Hawaiian black salt

is sea salt fused with lava and activated charcoal. Its striking, onyx-colored crystals and smoky undertones complement any Asian-inspired meal.

Delicately crunchy, subtly flavored, snowy-white

fleur de sel

from France is the quintessential finishing salt. Due to its labor-intensive harvest (which involves raking the topmost layer of crystals from salt beds), it also commands a steep price. Fortunately, the Portuguese version, called

flor de sal

or "salt cream," tastes just as lovely but costs about half as much. Try it sprinkled over a beet salad, a plate of crisp radishes, or a scoop of chocolate ice cream.

Mineral-rich

coarse gray sea salt

, harvested from coastal salt beds, is incredibly versatile, with almost limitless utility in the kitchen. Its sweet, briny notes work wonders whether you're seasoning a batch of soup or finishing a platter of greens. When adding it at the end of cooking, you'll want to grind it in a mortar and pestle first, or pass it through a wet salt mill.

The rosy crystals distinguishing

Himalayan pink salt

, mined from ancient salt beds in the Himalayan foothills, offer pure, bright flavor, perfect as a delicate garnish.